On Sunday, August 28, 2022, Dr. Narendra P. Sharma, NOC Founder and Chair, delivered the sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, SC. His focus was “Be a Compassionate Neighbor … NOC’s Approach to ‘Teaching a Person to Fish’ to Achieve Independence, Self-Reliance, and Dignity.” He spoke about cultivation of the soul in order to achieve inner peace and lasting happiness. The presentation was enthusiastically received by the congregation and prompted vigorous discussion following the service.
Slides from the presentation are attached: Narendra Sharma. UUC Presentation, August 28, 2022
Thursday, February 17, was a special day for Dr. Sharma as he visited NOC’s Learning Center at Island Lutheran Church on Hilton Head Island. His expectation was simple: He expected to see smiling faces of children working diligently with teachers from local schools, volunteers, and NOC’s field staff. But, lo and behold, he was greeted at the door by two parents who surprised him with a basket of fruits artfully carved by these parents. The presentation had NOC’s logo and the name of the church –Island Lutheran Church. These parents said that this gift was a token of appreciation from the children and families NOC serves locally.
Clearly, this gesture was unexpected, but greatly appreciated for the thoughtfulness of the people NOC serves. Caring for others, especially those who are in need and those who are vulnerable, is the essence of our existence and purpose in life.
The Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC), established in 2008, is a 501(c)(3) community development organization located in Beaufort County, South Carolina. NOC’s mission is to fight poverty by improving the quality of life of people living in poverty, thus empowering them to achieve the “American Dream”.
NOC’s development mantra is to “teach people how to fish” by creating opportunities for them to get ahead in life. In keeping with its mission, NOC’s bottom-up approach focuses on the development of the individual, the family, and the community by implementing small, low-cost neighborhood projects that can be replicated and are sustainable. Over the past 14 years, NOC has played an important role in bringing resources, services, and technology into poor neighborhoods in Beaufort County, making a difference in the lives of many people. NOC currently operates six learning centers in Beaufort County, South Carolina.
NOC’s grassroots approach harnesses the energy and social capital of families and local resources to break the pattern of generational poverty, one neighborhood at a time. NOC partners with families, schools, libraries, health providers, and other non-profits to create local solutions to systemic problems related to poverty and economic stagnation. NOC presently operates three learning centers in Hilton Head, one in Bluffton, and two in downtown Beaufort, serving a population of more than 12,000. Poverty is significant in these neighborhoods and opportunities are limited for children and families to achieve economic and social progress. There is a digital divide as many families lack access to personal computers and internet. The academic achievement gap is significant in Beaufort County schools. More than 40% of minority children, mainly African Americans and Hispanics (accounting for about 55% of the over 22,000 students who attend public schools in the county) are not at grade level in math, reading, or language arts. These children receive limited help outside the school to augment their learning skills.
Through Neighborhood Learning Centers located within low-income neighborhoods, NOC brings educational programs, technology, health screenings and adult learning to people with limited pathways to academic and economic success. The Learning Centers provide a safe learning environment for children and adults and are equipped with computers and internet access. NOC’s flagship educational program includes after school and summer learning and enrichment programs. Each Learning Center is supported by a field team consisting of a Program Manager, a Neighborhood Liaison, teachers from local schools, and volunteers. NOC’s goals relate to academic performance, attendance, personal responsibility, and parental involvement. NOC, through its education program, is currently serving more than 150 high risk children in its 2022 winter/spring session, although this number is expected to grow as we move beyond the current pandemic. More than 90% of the children in NOC’s program show improvement in skills relating to math and reading.
Since its inception, NOC has offered adult classes and workshops including Basic English (focusing on workplace communication), public safety, health and wellness, and financial literacy. NOC also promotes better health by facilitating annual screenings in conjunction with Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Volunteers in Medicine, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Since 2019, more than 150 people, who have no health insurance and limited access to health care, have benefitted from these health screenings. NOC has sponsored community events in partnership with churches and civic organizations to promote community development. NOC has also helped the poor when hurricanes have impacted Beaufort County by providing small grants for accommodation, food, and medicine.
Since March 2020, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic, NOC has gone the extra mile to help more than 100 families associated with its programs with grant funding to cover food costs, as well as rental and utility payments in order to avoid evictions. NOC also reopened its Learning Centers under difficult conditions resulting from the pandemic, helping children academically through its education programs.
NOC maintains low overhead and operating costs and relies on part time salaried staff, local teachers contracted for tutoring, and volunteers to implement its outreach programs. On average, each center operates at a cost of less than $75,000 annually with significant volunteer time of Board members.
In moving forward, NOC will continue to build and sustain its existing programs in Beaufort County. In addition, NOC will continue laying the ground work for replication of its model (managed and operated independently by the people using local resources and expertise) outside Beaufort County, in South Carolina and nationally. Again, these new entities will operate as independent grassroots organizations run and managed by the local people with support from diverse stakeholders, including businesses, government agencies, civic organizations, and the community at large. Aside from providing know-how, NOC in Beaufort County will have no ownership or control of these new entries.
Given the prevalence of COVID-19, NOC will face two important challenges in 2022: One, NOC will need to develop innovative solutions and creative ways to raise money to support its existing programs and to expand its operations in order to help more families in need. Two, NOC will need to find creative ways to structure and deliver its outreach programs under demanding conditions while ensuring the safety of its staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries.
In keeping with its vision and mission, NOC will tackle these challenges with a renewed sense of urgency and commitment to helping those in need and those who are vulnerable
Dr. Narendra Sharma, NOC founder and chair, made a presentation on October 28, 2020, to members of the Board of Directors and staff of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. He discussed NOC’s development approach and business model for promoting community development locally, drawing on NOC’s experience and successful results in the local community over the past 12 years. He emphasized NOC’s neighborhood-centric approach to developing and maintaining strong relationships with people residing in target neighborhoods. In this context, Dr. Sharma spoke about NOC’s new Learning Center, located at 4 Southwood Park Drive on Hilton Head Island, SC. This facility, operating as NOC’s flagship center, will meet the needs of children and families living in four low-income neighborhoods where poverty is significant: Sandalwood, Oaks, Hilton Head Gardens, and Woodlake Apartments. Through this new Learning Center, NOC will implement afterschool and summer learning programs for children, periodic health screenings, and workforce/community development programs.
To view Dr. Sharma’s presentation, go to: NOC presentation.pdf